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Tetelestai (It is Finished) Week 4 Study Guide: The Self Substitution of God

Community Group Study Guide — Tetelestai (It is Finished): The Self Substitution of God
Leviticus 16:20-28

Study Information:
We experience many times in our lives where we feel our need for atonement. This can happen when we sin we experience guilt and shame and feel separation from God, especially if we were not yet in Christ. What can we do when we’ve wronged someone else or God himself? Our culture today had made it really difficult for people to repent and be restored. We see this with celebrities who burst on the scene, almost immediately people go back into their old social media profiles to find offensive things they’ve said so that they get discredited or canceled. People have to tip toe around public comments lest they say the wrong thing and offend people. Behind all this is a belief that certain wrong actions can permanently exclude you from the good will of the masses. Are we always doomed to be the sum of our worst moments? 

God has made a way for forgiveness and restoration to be possible. Our sin can be covered over by the sacrifice and the righteousness of another and that is what theologians call “Substitution”. At the heart of the atonement is substitution, which is one thing taking the place of another. In the Old Covenant law there was a day each year where the people’s sin would be covered over (atoned for) through the sacrifice of an unblemished bull. That act did not permanently cover over their sin, but served as an atoning work, a reminder that God is holy, that he has made a way to draw near to him and it pointed forward to the once and for all atonement that would come through Jesus Christ. 

The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16:20-28
A key feature of the Old Covenant law was a yearly festival around atonement for the people’s communal sin and need for God’s mercy to overlook the wrong they’ve done. This festival was called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Leviticus 16:2 tells us that God himself would appear over the Ark of the covenant in the tabernacle, specifically in the holy of holies, taking the form of a cloud. The priest would consecrate himself and make atonement for the impurity of the people through sacrifice and confession. There were three important acts on the Day of Atonement. First, they priest sacrificed animals and sprinkled blood around the holy place and the altar to purify and sanctify them. Second they took a goat and the priest laid his hands on the goat’s head the priest would confess the inquiries and sins of the people and then release that goat to the wilderness. This was a symbol of expiation, the removal of the guilt of sins from the people of God. Third, a bull and goat would be sacrificed for their sin. This was not a pretty sight and could seem unnecessarily gory to our modern eyes. Yet it was a reminder that sin was an offense against a holy God, and that a pathway to reconciliation with God was possible through the substitution of another. The Old Covenant Law showed over and over again that without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). 

Year by year the priest would confess their sins and offer pardon. Also the other 364 days would be filled with people bringing sin offerings and making sacrifice for personal sins that required a sacrifice according to the Law of Moses. It was not that God wanted to keep them feeling guilty and distant, rather it was the opposite. God desired for them to know that there was a pathway of reconciliation and covering. This system was temporary and flawed, but it foreshadowed Jesus (Hebrews 10:1). They’d have a corporate memory that would point them forward to Jesus and the once for all atonement that would happen when he became the offering for their sin. 

The Self Substitution of God
Hebrews 9:6-12
The sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement were a focus of the author of Hebrews in his argument about how Jesus was better than anything one could put their hope or trust in. The book of Hebrews described how Jesus was better than angels, Moses, the priesthood and the sacrificial system. The focus of the author was to convince wavering and persecuted Christians to not go back to Judaism because all that the Old Covenant pointed to was found in Jesus. As you read through Hebrews 9 and 10 you can gain an understanding of how the sacrifices in the Law of Moses foreshadowed Jesus. The priest would go through ritual duties to enter into the holy of holies in the temple to offer sacrifice (Hebrews 9:6-8). These rituals and practices were good but flawed in that they could not clean the conscience of the worshipper once and for all. After describing this, the author of Hebrews pivoted to Jesus, “but when Christ appeared as a high priest of good things to come, then through a greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by the means of the blood of goats and calves but by the means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12).” The Day of Atonement not only covered over the sins of the people and reminded them of their need for God’s mercy, but more than that it pointed to how Jesus would do that once by being the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. 

Substitutionary atonement is simply this: in our place, Jesus died. We love stories of people sacrificing themselves for others or trading places with people in acts of heroism. Most of our good movies and stories involve some form of sacrifice. It is almost as if it is hardwired into us because it points to THE story. But, the substitution of Jesus for us is not just a good guy trading places with us; it is amplified because it was God the Son himself doing it. His perfect and sinless life traded for ours so that all that we could be restored to God and reconciled. The writer of Hebrews goes to painstaking efforts to build his argument around the incarnation. Since God the Son took on humanity he was able to experience suffering and became a merciful and faithful high priest, likewise he was able to defeat death and more than all that, he made propitiation for our sins (Hebrews 2:14-18). Propitiation being the removal of the barrier that separated us from God because of the payment for sin being made. Jesus uniquely was able to be our substitute because he was fully human and fully God; he took our place and it was God himself as our substitute. On the cross, the sin would be covered over once and for all who put their faith in Christ, through the sacrificial death of Jesus.   

If you’re in Christ your sin no longer has the power to condemn you or separates you from Christ. Guilt can be a tool to lead you to draw near to God remember your forgiveness in Jesus, but guilt and shame and condemnation are not meant to lead you away from Jesus. Likewise, we’re no longer identified by our worst moments, rather we can find our identity and satisfaction in Christ himself. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
What are examples of stories in our culture where a hero has to trade their life to save the lives of others? Why is that story so appealing to us?

Read Leviticus 16:20-28
What is the Day of Atonement and what are some reasons God would set up a yearly festival around the sin of the people?

Read Hebrews 9:6-12
Why did the covering of the atonement in the Old Covenant need to be “re-applied?” How is the atonement that Jesus made better and different than the Old Covenant atonement?

God himself became our substitute, in our place Jesus died. How does this help you in times of guilt or shame, or times when you find yourself defining yourself by your sin?